MINNEAPOLIS — All last week, one team's overwhelming accumulation of talent was obscured by its players' even more overwhelming desire for personal acclaim.
The other team seems driven only by a coach who demands precision, football power and strict adherence to an ego-tempering team philosophy and a unified identity.
They are the two best teams in the league, the 16-2 Washington Redskins against the 15-3 Buffalo Bills, but beyond their excellence, the teams that will play in today's Super Bowl XXVI at the Metrodome are vastly different breeds of football teams.
The free-swinging, free-talking, flamboyant Bills spent Hype Week revealing their individual agendas, missing media appearances, squabbling over who among them is the biggest superstar and loudly proclaiming their private unhappiness.
"Everybody is against us," Buffalo defensive end Bruce Smith said. "I have no idea why. . . . You say going back and forth is bickering. But when you say what you feel, I call that being a man."
The methodical, conservative Washington Redskins, more an assembly of reliable spare parts by Coach Joe Gibbs than outstanding individual talent, kept quiet, kept their personal annoyances to themselves.
"It just stems from our coach," defensive end Charles Mann said. "He has the philosophy that basically is about going about your business. He gets players on his team that are much like himself, and he looks for those type guys--not only good football players, but guys who are intelligent, sharp, have good personalities."
Today, these two starkly different teams will collide. The Bills, without huddles to slow them down, play football as they talk, brashly, relying offensively on flashy Jim Kelly's passes and darting Thurman Thomas' dashes, and defensively on Bruce Smith and Cornelius Bennett.
"The Bills seem to be able to just explode on you, and you're never sure when it's going to happen," Redskin chief assistant Richie Petitbon said.
Washington has no particular style, no particular superstars, a quarterback in Mark Rypien who is anything but flashy, an offensive line that revels in its "Hogs" nickname, four defensive starters plucked from the Plan B waste pile last spring, and a future Hall of Fame receiver in Art Monk.
Washington was the only team in the league that finished in the top 10 in the league's six overall statistical categories, a consistency hard to imagine in this era of specialized football.
The hurrying Bills, meanwhile, were the No. 1 rushing offense and the No. 1 offense overall, but ranked second-last in defense.
"What's the one facet of the Redskins I fear the most?" Bills' Coach Marv Levy said. "If I could name one, that would help out a great deal. \o7 That \f7 is the problem, the fact of their tremendous balance--not between just run and pass, but between offense, defense, special teams, in every area."
A victory today for Buffalo, then, would be a victory for football anarchy--not to mention for the long-belittled American Football Conference, zero for seven in recent Super Bowls.
"We're the story of the Super Bowl, I guess," said league MVP Thomas, who skipped Wednesday's media sessions, apparently miffed that his offensive coordinator had called quarterback Jim Kelly the "Michael Jordan of the Bills" instead saving that description for Thomas.
Thomas several years ago criticized Kelly for being too selfish, and Kelly responded in kind, not restricting himself to Thomas and not gaining any popularity with his teammates.
"A lot of people want to say we're back to the 'Bickering Bills,' but we are not like that anymore," Thomas said. "We just have a lot of people on this team who speak their mind, who aren't afraid to tell their opinions."
The day before Thomas staged his media walkout, Smith had casually mentioned that, because of some racist letters he has received this season, he probably will demand to be traded once the Super Bowl is over.
The defensive end followed that Thursday by guaranteeing he would have a "great game" today and warning that the Redskins would be foolhardy to try to let all-pro left tackle Jim Lachey try to stop him without help.
"I make no comparison to where they are and where we are," said Darrell Green, Washington's nine-year veteran cornerback.
"I don't know what's going on over there. All I know is where we are, and that's all that's important. . . .
"We just want to do the best job we can. We do what we do. That's all it is. We're not robots, not better than anybody else. We've been doing it for years."
To beat the Bills, the Redskins will have to slow them down, try their patience, do what Denver did to the Bills' offense during the AFC title game by closing up the defensive middle and choking off Buffalo's attempts at big plays.
They almost lost to the Denver Broncos in that game, winning by only 10-7, because suddenly, the wheels of their superstar-offense all but came off. They scored their only touchdown on an interception return by linebacker Carlton Bailey.